This is the time of the year when those who have a predisposition to colds and flus will see an increase in these respiratory infections.
The most common advice to deter respiratory illnesses is to wash your hands and keep your immune system healthy by eating properly and exercising regularly. There are hundreds of different bacteria and viruses that your hands are exposed to on door knobs, cell phones, computer keyboards, shaking hands, etc. Think of all the handles, knobs, surfaces, switches, materials that are touched every hour. Washing your hands (and washing them often) is one way of keeping these bugs from getting into your system.
However, did you know that keeping your teeth clean is an additional (although less publicized) approach to healthy living and avoiding a respiratory infection. Here’s why:
1. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, a potential contributing factor to respiratory diseases is periodontal disease.
2. There are literally hundreds of species of bacteria that live in your mouth. Bacteria assist in the growth of viruses. As a virus makes its way into your mouth (usually from touching your hands to your mouth or biting your nails), the fewer bacteria in your mouth, the less likely the virus will grow and multiply.
3. If your body has periodontal disease, it has a high level of CRP (C-reactive protein) which triggers your body to fight infection. By continuously triggering the body’s defense mechanism due to the chronic condition of periodontal disease, your body is weakened to fight infection from other diseases such as respiratory illnesses.
Your mouth is the perfect environment (moist, dark, warm and acidic), which is constantly being fed by carbohydrates to breed the bacteria that cause periodontal disease. This disease taxes the immune system. Because the damaging bacteria thrive in the absence of oxygen, the areas between the teeth are particularly good breeding grounds. These bacteria can actually double their count every hour. Imagine, there are less people on the entire planet than there are bacteria in your mouth. The sticky film that is a constant challenge to remove and what is called plaque is actually the excrement or bi-product of all that bacteria.
Twice daily cleaning of teeth at home and professional cleanings at the dentist every three or six months will assist in the fight against periodontal disease and respiratory disease. The Journal of Periodontology reported on studies that found that patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5x greater risk of COPD. It is the 6th leading cause of mortality in the US with sixteen million Americans suffering from COPD.
The American Academy of Periodontology reported that, “Bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be aspirated into the lung to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, especially in people with periodontal disease.” The bacteria that are multiplying in the mouth are not only being used as factories for the viruses but are also being breathed into the susceptible lungs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that there are over 1 billion respiratory infections each year in the US. Avoid illness – wash your hands, keep them out of your mouth, eat healthy, exercise AND clean your teeth.
– Dr. Piero, a practicing dentist for over twenty five years, is the inventor of Dental Air Force® (www.dentalairforce.com). Articles published are on periodontal health related to heart disease, respiratory health, diabetes, strokes, and other systemic diseases. He is the Executive Editor for Journal of Experimental Dental Science, a contributing author to Hospital Infection Control: Clinical Guidelines and soon-to-be published book, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.